End of last year Israel competed fiercely with much larger countries to secure vaccine supplies from global manufacturers as the coronavirus pandemic raged. Today he is leading one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world, with more vaccines – both in the country and on the way – than he will use.
How did a country of just 9 million people persuade companies courting markets with hundreds of millions of potential customers to fulfill orders first? The answer lies in 17 conversations between Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, and Yuli Edelstein, minister of health.
The two Israeli politicians have vowed to build one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world and share data on its impact on the pandemic, provided supplies are plentiful and uninterrupted. Pfizer agreed and deliveries began in mid-December.
“The company will be able to brag about it, profit from it and advertise it,” Edelstein said in an interview with the Financial Times. “Without it, no company would even look at our direction – they would be looking for markets a hundred times bigger.”
With more deliveries expected, Israel is now expected to have a surplus of vaccines from the three major manufacturers by March.
Already, the Pfizer deal has seen BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine planes land almost every Sunday in Tel Aviv, greeted by television cameras. As other countries have struggled to increase their supplies and some face delays, Israel has administered first shots to over 2.6 million citizens and second shots to just over 1 , 1 million, mainly over the age of 60.
“We are vaccinating 10 times faster than the United States,” Netanyahu said on Sunday, pledging 1 million new vaccines this week. “No country has done what we are capable of doing.”
The deal – and the rampant effectiveness of the vaccination campaign – has bolstered Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes, as he seeks re-election in late March. He visited vaccination centers, encountered planes at the airport and framed the syringe he was pricked with, bragging about his success in carrying out the national effort, which he dubbed “Back to Life” .
Pre-order deliveries Modern vaccine will pick up in March and millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are also on their way. By then, Israel plans to vaccinate most of its adult population with Pfizer’s vaccine. It is still unclear what Israel will do with these additional supplies, Edelstein said. Israeli media reported that some EU allies, like Cyprus, had asked Netanyahu for excess supplies, but Edelstein denied the information.
“We are not in the business of supplemental vaccines,” he said. “We want to make sure we have enough for us and, if there is enough, we will see what we can do for our immediate neighbors – the fact that the Palestinians are in bad shape right now is not in the interest of Israel. ”
The Palestinian Authority is still awaiting supplies of Sputnik V and the World Health Organization’s flagship vaccine distribution initiative, Covax.
Hospitals nationwide are already collecting data on the number of staff antibodies and decreases in infections among those who received their second injection. These data reveal that even with its global pace – 40% of Israelis have already received at least one vaccine – the pandemic has yet to be brought under control.
One study of people over 60 who received the booster showed an immediate drop of at least 60% in new infections, but another warned that new variants made adolescents a worrying vector of rapid transmission, at risk. of their parents.
Part of the reason for Israel’s infection rate is that Mr. Netanyahu has struggled to enforce the lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox population, whose leaders back his coalition.
A more virulent strain, variant B.1.1.7 first discovered in Britain, has also unleashed in countries that have yet to be vaccinated, now hospital admissions and new infections at record levels. A record number of people are currently ventilated in hospitals, the Israeli parliament has learned.
“In my mind, I have a picture of two racing cars – on the left, the car with the vaccine and, on the right, the surge in numbers and increasing infections,” Edelstein said. “I just hope the car with the vaccine reaches the finish line first.”
A spokesperson for Pfizer said in an email that “the epidemiological analysis with the Israel Ministry of Health is unique in that it will assess whether a certain vaccination rate will trigger protection of the herd in addition. direct protection ”. This will reveal whether the drop in cases can be attributed to the vaccine or to the protection of the herd, the spokesperson added.
So far, Edelstein said, there is nothing to officially share with Pfizer, as Israel has yet to achieve vaccine-induced herd immunity.
Health ministers of other countries envy Israel. “My counterparts in other countries tell me that I am perhaps the only Minister of Health in the world who is smiling right now,” said Mr. Edelstein.
“I tell them it’s more like the [actors] in Greek mythology – half of my face smiles, the other half cries.
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler